Pinprapha Phuetphol still cannot believe it. With the support of the Thai Teachers' Association (TDLV), the Thai School Board (OBEC) and the Goethe- Institut, Pinprapha travelled from her hometown Bangkok to Freiburg in July of this year to take part in the International German Language Olympics.
When the final results were announced after two weeks of competition, Pinprapha Phuetphol was declared winner of the A2 category "Advanced Beginners".
"I was just speechless", said 17-year-old Pinparapha or Pao Pao as she is called by her parents and friends. She was so surprised she couldn't say anything. "I was completely dumbfounded."
Pinparapha never imagined she would be so successful when she first began learning German three years ago. Why did she choose German as a second foreign language after English, which is obligatory in Thailand? "German sounds so nice!" She first felt a special affinity for the language when she heard the German song: "Frei und Schwerelos”.
Pao Pao was lucky. Her Bangkok school "Triam Udomsuksa" is one of the many Pasch schools worldwide where the teaching of German as a foreign language is supported by the Goethe Institut. The 17-year-old admitted that it was difficult to begin with: "German is very different from Thai, my mother tongue," she said. “There are no articles like der, die, das in my native language”.
Everyone was so kind
Nevertheless, the learning process - six teaching hours per week - was fast and successful. Last year Pao Pao went to Celle, Germany for the first time with the Pasch exchange programme.
And this year she was able to participate in the International German Language Olympics, a language proficiency competition which is organised every two years by the Goethe-Institut and the International Association of German Teachers. Pao Pao can still remember the first day she arrived in Freiburg. "I was very, very excited. I had no idea what to do." She admitted that she was even a bit scared. But then everyone was so kind. "It was very, very easy to make friends."
Pao Pao also enjoyed the competition itself. She chose to design a wall news-sheet on the subject of "Nature and Environment" because that was what impressed her most about Freiburg: "Freiburg was really, really great!” The city is regarded as a "green city" - and rightly so, according to the teenager from Thailand. "Lots of people ride bicycles. Many houses have solar panels. There are so many bins for separating waste. And cloth shopping bags." That is all "very different from Thailand".
Pao Pao is so enthusiastic about this "beautiful city" that she is determined to return to Freiburg with her parents and her older sister. When she finishes school she definitely wants to study German - ideally in combination with psychology. "And I also want to use German in my job", she declared.
New friends from Mexico
Pao Pao Pao's classmate Andaman Saisrithong, the second Olympic winner from Thailand, also wants to use German in his future career. His dream is to study law, first in Thailand and then law or politics in Germany. Everyone calls him Caesar. "Like the Emperor", says the 17-year-old proudly. During his stay in Freiburg, Caesar was particularly impressed by German food.
He enjoyed the group competitions at the Olympics. Together with three other participants, he developed, rehearsed and performed a play on the theme "A world without hobbies”. The four group members immediately hit it off. In fact, all the Olympic participants are now good friends. "We even started our own WhatsApp group!".
Pao Pao is also a regular participant in the group chat and, as she tells us, she also has lots of direct contacts: "I now have so many friends who live so far away from me. That's really great."
She now has a friend from Mexico. She had texted her in the morning before school. "She sent me a photo from Mexico and I sent mine from Thailand," says the 17-year-old excitedly. She always talked enthusiastically about the other participants, which gave rise to the following question: "Hand on your heart Pao Pao: What is more important to you - first place at the Olympics or your new friends? Before she answers, she stops to think for a while. But then she makes a decision: "My new friends!"